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The Desire of 
Ages project: 

the data 

Part 1 of a two-part series 

Fred Veltman 

How dependent on 
sources was Ellen 
White in the writing 
of The Desire of 
Ages? What sources 
did she use, how did 
she use them, and 
through what 
process was that 
book written? 

When he was commis- 
sioned to do this re- 
search project, Fred 
Veltman, Ph.D., was 
the chairman of the 
Religion Department of 
Pacific Union College, 
Anglian, California. He 
continues to teach half- 
time in that department 
while chairing a differ- 
ent, newly-formed de- 

The fact that Ellen 
White used literary 
sources in the pro- 
duction of her writ- 
ings has been known 
for more than a cen- 

1 tury. But in January 

1980, Walter Rea, then an Adventist 
pastor in southern California, presented 
evidence that Ellen White's literary de- 
pendency was greater than had been rec- 
ognized previously. The nature and 
scope of her literary borrowing, however, 
particularly for any given book other 
than The Great Controversy, was still a 
matter of speculation. How much verba- 
tim material was there in her writings, 
especially her nanative, descriptive, and 
theological commentaries on Scripture ? 
To what degree was she dependent upon 
literary sources ? Do her comments reflect 
the influence of other writers ? From what 
writers did she borrow and from what 
kind of books? Did Ellen White do the 
copying herself, or was it done by her 
literary assistants? Could she have un- 
consciously used the literary expressions 
of other authors —did she have a "pho- 
tographic" memory? 

These and similar issues had to be ad- 
dressed before one could treat the charge 
of plagiarism leveled against Ellen 
White, and the questions being raised 
over the nature of her inspiration. 

The General Conference of Seventh- 
day Adventists sponsored an in-depth in- 
vestigation into Ellen White's use of lit- 
erary sources in writing The Desire of 
Ages. The research, which spread over a 
period of almost eight years and involved 
the equivalent of five years of full-time 
work, was completed about two years 

ago. Adventist colleges and universities 
throughout the world received copies of 
the full report on this in-depth study. All 
of the Ellen G. White Estate research 
centers also carry a copy of the final 

Space requirements dictate that my 
comments focus on the conclusions of 
the investigation. But for the benefit of 
those readers who may not be acquainted 
with the study, I will briefly touch on its 
textual base and methodology. And for 
those who may be interested in my own 
reaction to the results of the research, a 
personal postscript accompanies the con- 
cluding article of this series. I make no 
attempt here to document or argue the 
evidence supporting the conclusions. 

The Ellen White textual base 

The Desire of Ages includes both nar- 
rative and theological commentary. 
Nearly every chapter is based upon a por- 
tion of Scripture. If Adventists were con- 
cerned about Ellen White's use of 
sources, this book, perhaps the best- 
loved of all her writings, was the obvious 
text to study. 

Ellen White's motivation to write The 
Desire of Ages stemmed from her desire to 
prepare a more complete and accurate 
portrayal of the life of Christ than was 
contained in The Spirit of Prophecy, vol- 
umes 2 and 3 , a new book that Adventist 
colporteurs could sell to the public. For 
nearly 40 years she wrote on this subject, 
finally having The Desire of Ages pub- 
lished in 1898. She became so caught up 
in the subject that she produced enough 
material to fill two additional books, 
Christ's Object Lessons and Thoughts From 
the Mount of Blessing. Much of what she 


ote for The Desire of Ages first saw 
publication as articles in various Advent- 
ist journals. 

Initially we researchers were assigned 
to study the entire text of The Desire of 
Ages— all of its 87 chapters and more 
than 800 pages. We soon found we had 
neither the time nor the staff to tackle a 
project of such scope. To reduce the tex- 
tual base to manageable size, we asked 
statisticians to select 15 chapters that 
would serve as a random sample of the 
full text. 3 

Ellen White did not write The Desire of 
Ages chapter by chapter from scratch. 
Rather, for the most part it was compiled 
from her earlier writings. So the pre- 
1898 unpublished manuscripts and the 
articles published prior to that year af- 
forded a textual base more representative 
of her own handiwork. Using the subject 
matter of the 15 chapters as our control, 
we searched all the earlier writings of 
Ellen White to locate the letters, manu- 
scripts, and articles in which she had 
written on these same subjects. To dis- 
tinguish these texts from the text of The 
Desire of Ages (DA), we have designated 
them pre-DA. 


We were commissioned to study Ellen 
White's use of literary sources. For an 
investigation of this type, the obvious 
research method is source analysis, or 
what is commonly called source criti- 
cism. In this kind of study, the research- 
ers select literary subunits to serve as the 
basis for comparing the major text and 
the possible source texts. They establish 
criteria to permit them to find the literary 
units that are parallel and to determine 
the degree to which the two units resem- 
ble each other. 

We selected the sentence as the unit of 
comparison. The 15 chapters of the DA 
text contained 2,624 sentences, and the 
pre-DA text furnished 1,180 sentence 
units. 4 

We also established a scale of seven 
levels of dependency. The criteria differ- 
entiating between these levels of depen- 
dency were the amount of verbatim 
words and the order of the elements in 
the sentences. For instance, if a sentence 
from an Ellen White text was in every 
respect identical to one in a source text, 
we labeled it "strict verbatim" and gave it 
a dependency value of seven. In cases 
where the sentences were identical ex- 
cept that an obvious synonym had been 
substituted for a word, we identified the 

sentence as "verbatim" and gave it a 
value of six— indicating that it had a 
lesser degree of dependency than "strict 
verbatim" with its value of seven. 

When the Ellen White text and the 
source were identical because both writ- 
ers were depending directly on Scripture, 
we labeled the sentence "Bible quota- 
tion" and gave it a dependency rating of 
zero. When there was no clear indication 
of literary dependency, we called the 
sentence "independent" and gave it a de- 
pendency value of zero — even when the 
content of her DA text was very similar 
to that of a source text. 5 

Literary dependency is not limited to 
parallel sentence structure and verbal 
similarities. Authors may also consult 
sources for the arrangement of the sen- 
tences and the thematic development of 
a chapter. So our analysis of the DA text 
included a study of possible editorial or 
redactional dependency. 

In our investigation we examined 
more than 500 works, mostly 
nineteenth-century works on the life of 
Christ. Of course, Ellen White was not 
limited to this type of literature when she 
wrote on the life of Christ. She also had 
access to sermons, devotional books, Bi- 
ble society tracts, Bible commentaries, 
and general Christian literature, and 
could have borrowed materials from any 
of these sources. In view of the fact that 
we did not review all the life-of-Christ 
materials available to Ellen White, much 
less the literature from other genres she is 
known to have read, there is no way this 
probe could be called complete or ex- 
haustive. So the reader must consider the 
summations and conclusions that follow 
as minimal if not tentative findings, even 
though we made every possible effort to 
conduct a thorough and careful study. 


From the outset of the study and 
throughout its long course I constantly 
faced questions relating to the conclu- 
sions. What do you think you will dis- 
cover? Will you be able to report the 
results of your study without having your 
ministerial credentials revoked? Will the 
church publicize your findings ? Have you 
changed your views on Ellen White? Do 
you still believe that she was inspired? 
Did her secretaries do the copying? Did 
you find any disagreement between her 
writings and Scripture? Do you think a 
believer has any right to look for sources 
behind inspired writings? Do you think 
the writers she used were inspired? 

Marian Davis 
compiled Ellen 
White's earlier 
writings on Christ's 
life into scrapbook 
form* It was from this 
collection that the 
DA text was 

While these inquiries were appropri- 
ate and appreciated, they were not the 
issues troubling me. I had other con- 
cerns. How could we approach the anal- 
ysis of the textual data fairly and consis- 
tently? How accurate would our 
conclusions be when based upon a ran- 
dom sample consisting of 15 chapters of 
varying length, content, and source de- 
pendency? Could our conclusions serve 
as valid generalizations about the entire 
text of The Desire of Ages and Ellen 
White's method of writing her books, 
particularly her commentaries on the 
great controversy between good and evil 
as covered in Scriptute? 6 

My solution was to study each chapter 
in terms of its own special nature. I hoped 
that I would be able to let the data deter- 
mine the questions to be asked, and I 
endeavored to be open to any new in- 
sights, even new perplexities, that might 
emerge from the analysis. In the end I 
developed a list of 14 questions that I 
asked in regard to each chapter. I hoped 
that these questions would help to keep 
my analysis focused and consistent de- 
spite variations in the text and possible 
changes in my outlook as the study pro- 

In what follows, I present the 14 ques- 
tions and the corresponding summary 
statements derived from our analysis of 
the 15 chapters. The statements, of 
course, present in abbreviated form what 
is more fully layed out in chapter XVIII of 
the report. The questions and answers 
offer further clarification on the nature 


It became very clear 
to us that it was Ellen 
White herself who 
was copying from the 

and scope of the study and largely form 
the evidence supporting the five general 
concluding statements that I give in the 
second article. 

1. Do we have any original (hand- 
written) manuscripts of Ellen White on 
the DA text? 

No chapters have been located in ei- 
ther handwritten or copy form. Several 
sentences from three chapters have been 
found in Ellen White's diaries, and sig- 
nificant portions of three additional 
chapters were developed from manu- 
scripts dating from 1897. Handwritten 
and copied texts exist for portions of the 
pre-DA text, treating the content of 10 
of the 15 chapters. 

2. Does the DA text represent an 
increase or a reduction in the coverage 
of topics Ellen White treated in her 
earlier works? And if she enlarged her 
coverage, is the expansion to be ac- 
counted for by a greater dependency on 

No consistent answer emerges. Some 
topics receive more attention, and others 
less. Where the commentary has been 
extended, we also find more indepen- 
dent material. The DA text generally 
represents a lesser degree of dependency 
than does the pre-DA text, and the 
longer chapters of DA show no greater 
use of sources than do the shorter ones. 

3. How does the content of the DA 
text compare in general with the con- 
tent of Ellen White's earlier writings on 
the life of Christ? Can we detect any 
influence of the sources on the con- 

Doing source analysis involves giving 
some consideration to content, but find- 
ing a definitive answer to this question 
would require a separate study. Generally 

speaking, there is strong agreement be- 
tween the later and earlier writings ex- 
cept where the earlier text needed revi- 
sion. No doubt much of the agreement 
results from the use of the same sources 
for both the earlier and later writings. 
The DA text manifests a stronger spiri- 
tual appeal, no doubt because of the 
evangelistic purpose that motivated and 
guided its production. 

4. Are there any significant differ- 
ences between the DA text and the 
pre-DA text? 

Differences appear in the order of 
events in the life of Christ, in how the 
two texts harmonize the Scripture ac- 
counts, and in DA's exclusion of some 
extrabiblical stories contained in the pre- 
DA text. No doubt the sources influ- 
enced to some degree the chronology of 
Ellen White's narrative account and the 
thematic arrangement of some of her 
chapters in the DA text. It is not always"^ 
possible to tell when the revision is the 
result of the source's influence or of a 
closer reading of the biblical account. 

5. How much of the DA text reveals 
literary dependency? 

6. What is the extent of Ellen 
White's literary independence in writ- 
ing DA? 

7. What is the degree of dependence 
of the DA text? 

Questions 5, 6, and 7 address the basic 
issue of literary dependency. Of the 15 
chapters' 2,624 sentence units, we found 
823 (31 percent) to be in some degree 
clearly dependent upon material appear- 
ing in our 500-plus litetary sources. We 
found that 1,612 sentence units (61 per- 
cent) showed no verbal similarity to any 
of the sources we investigated. The aver- 
age dependency of the 823 dependent 
sentences rated just a little higher than 
the level of "loose paraphrase" (3.3). 

8. What major works were used by 
Ellen White in writing the DA text? 7 

We found 10 books from which Ellen 
White drew 10 or more literary parallels 
per Desire of Ages chapter. The Life of 
Christ, by William Hanna, heads the list 
with 321 source parallels. Night Scenes of 
the Bible and Walks and Homes of Jesus, 
both by Daniel March, come in second 
with 129 parallel sentences. 8 

Ellen White drew from Hanna's work 
for nearly every one of the 15 chapters. 
But she tended not to use the other 
sources in such a general way, tending 
rather to draw mostly from a single source 
for each chapter that we found to be de- 
pendent. Which other source she used 

varied from chapter to chapter. 

9. What additional sources contrib- 
uted to the DA text? 

In addition to the major sources, we 
found that 21 works written by 20 au- 
thors had a minor impact on the 1 5 chap- 
ters. Two authors had works in both the 
major influence and minor influence cat- 

10. What literary sources were used 
in the composition of the pre-DA writ- 

Marian Davis compiled Ellen White's 
earlier writings on Christ's life into scrap- 
book form. It was from this collection that 
the DA text was developed. As a result of 
this method of book production, many 
source parallels appearing in the DA text 
make their first appearance in these ear- 
lier writings. Exceptions to this expected 
duplication in literary parallels occur 
when the earlier text is not included in 
the DA text or when DA treats content 
not found in the earlier materials. 

Our study revealed that the works of 
Hanna and March figure heavily in the 
earlier texts that were taken over into 
DA. In the Ellen White manuscripts on 
Christ's life that were not used in forming 
the DA text, there are literary parallels 
from the works of Frederic Farrar, John 
Harris, Henry Melvill, Octavius Wins- 
low, and others. 9 

11. How does the DA text compare 
with the pre-DA text in the use of 
literary sources? 

When we first formulated this ques- 
tion, we had planned to evaluate every 
sentence of the earlier writings, but time 
and staff limitations prevented such a 
thorough study. We did examine this 
earlier material for its use of sources and 
found that in most cases it showed either 
the same level or greater levels of literary 
dependency than did the DA text. Out of 
the 1,180 sentence units reviewed, we 
noted 879 dependent sentences. We 
found 6 strict verbatim sentences, 80 
verbatim, 232 strict paraphrase, and 232 
simple paraphrase. The average rate of 
dependency of the pre-DA dependent 
sentences was 3.57, compared with DA's 
rate of 3.3. 

As we carefully studied the nature and 
degree of literary dependency of these 
early materials, which included Ellen 
White's personal journals, it became 
very clear to us that it was Ellen White 
herself who was copying from the 
sources. We need not look to the work of 
her secretaries to account for the source 


parallels found in her writings. 

12. How does the content of the 
dependent sentences compare with that 
of the independent? 

We found no significant differences in 
content. Both types of sentences include 
descriptive, devotional, spiritual, and 
theological commentary and moral ex- 
hortation. Both types contain details 
such as one might expect in an eyewit- 
ness account or as having come from a 
vision. The differences we noted involve 
the way reality is affirmed and the num- 
ber of sentences or degree of emphasis 
given to a particular topic. Ellen White's 
independent materials often extend the 
descriptive, spiritual, theological, or de- 
votional commentary. And where the 
source is suggestive and indefinite as to 
what took place in the life and ministry of 
Christ, Ellen White is positive and defi- 

13. Do the literary or thematic struc- 
tures of the chapters of the DA text 
reflect the structural composition of 
the sources, apart from the common 
influence of the Bible? 

Even though most DA chapters reflect 
the dominant use of one source, most of 
them contain parallels from more than 
one source. So the final compositions ex- 
hibit their own overall structures rather 
than those of any given source. 10 Several 
chapter sections appear to reflect specific 
Ellen White manuscripts. 

Ellen White's earlier manuscripts do 
not reflect multiple sources to the extent 
the DA chapters do. Evidently in writing 
them she used one source at a time as she 
worked on a given topic or aspect in 
Christ's life. When writing on the same 
topic on another occasion, she generally 
used a different source. The fact that DA 
chapters contain literary parallels from 
multiple sources more likely represents 
Marian Davis's conflation of several sep- 
arate Ellen White manuscripts or journal 
entries than it does Ellen White sitting 
down with several sources to compose a 

14. Are the pre-DA writings depen- 
dent on sources for their thematic ar- 

In most instances her diary entries 
float freely from topic to topic, not offer- 
ing extensive comment on any given 
subject. But where her pre-DA writings 
treat a topic, they usually follow the the- 
matic development of the source. Partic- 
ularly is this the case with her later manu- 
scripts. However, we would remind the 
reader of the differences discussed under 

question 12. Though the basic structure 
of Ellen White's material usually depends 
upon the source, her emphasis often dif- 

Hopefully this brief review of the 14 
questions and their answers provides 
both a useful context and some justifica- 
tion for the few broad conclusions that 
follow in the second article (in the De- 
cember issue of Ministry). These con- 
cluding statements may well apply to the 
entire text of The Desire of Ages, and 
perhaps to a number of Ellen White's 
other writings, as well. If not, they 
are — at least in my judgment — appropri- 
ate for the 15 chapters upon which this 
investigation focused. ■ 

1 Two Adventist journals have carried reviews 
of the report (Ad ventistReview, Sept. 22, 1988; and 
South Pacific Record, Apr. 15, 1989), but to my 
knowledge, nowhere have the full conclusions 
been published. For a while copies of the entire 
report and of the 100-page-long Chapter XVIII, 
"Summary and Conclusions," were available for 
purchase from the office of the president of the 
General Conference. The report is no longer in 
stock, but one may still purchase a copy of the 
summary chapter for US$3.50. Address your in- 
quiry to Dr. Charles Taylor at the General Confer- 
ence, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, 
MD 20904-6600. 

2 Because I was the project director, I am solely 
responsible for all the evaluations, the interpreta- 
tion of the data, and the writing of the report. But 1 
could not have carried out the project without the 
help of many others, most of whom are mentioned 
in the preface to the report. 

J The random sample comprised the following 
chapters: 3, 10, 13, 14, 24, 37, 39, 46, 53, 56, 72, 
75, 76, 83, and 84. 

4 In a few instances compound sentences were 
divided into two independent clauses and evalu- 
ated accordingly. 

5 The other levels of dependency were rated as 
follows: strict paraphrase, 5; simple paraphrase, 4; 
loose paraphrase, 3; source Bible, 2 (when the 
Scripture usage reflected the literary source); and 
partial independence, 1 . 

6 I have in mind here such works as Patriarchs 
andProphets, Prophets andKings, and The Acts of the 

7 We arbitrarily chose to classify any source sup- 
plying 10 or more literary parallels for any one DA 
chapter as a "major" literary source. 

8 The otheT major sources are: John Harris, The 
Great Teacher; Frederic Farrar, The Life of Christ; 
George Jones, Life-Scenes From the Four Gospels; 
Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the 
Messiah; J. H. Ingraham, The Prince of the House of 
David; Francis Wayland, Salvation by Christ; and 
John Cumming, Sabbath Evening Readings on the 
New Testament: St John. 

9 Frederic Farrar, The Life of Christ; John Harris, 
The Great Teacher; Henry Melvill, "Jacob's Vision 
and Vow"; and Octavius Winslow, The Glory of the 

10 In combining the two Nazareth visits into one 
chapter, DA chapter 24 seems to reflect the struc- 
ture of March. Some evidence exists for arguing 
that chapters 46 and 76 also depend upon their 
sources for significant aspects of their literary ar- 

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The Desire of 
Ages project: the 
conclusions „ « „ 

Fred Veltman 

The uniqueness of 
The Desire of Ages 
is to be found in its 
practical use of 
Scripture and its 
stress on spiritual 
realities and 
personal devotion 
rather than the 
originality of its 

When he was commis' 
sioned to do this re' 
search project, Fred 
Veltman, Ph,D., was 
the chairman of the 
Religion Department of 
Pacific Union College, 
Angwin, California. 
He continues to teach 
half -time in that depart- 
ment while chairing a 
different, newly formed 

To what degree was 
Ellen White depen- 
dent upon literary 
sources in writing 
The Desire of Ages? 
Did she do the copy- 

ing herself or was it 

done by her literary assistants? Could she 
have unconsciously used the literary ex- 
pressions of other authors— did she have 
a photographic memory? Our lengthy 
and detailed investigation led to five 
general conclusions that cast light upon 
these broad questions posed in the intro- 
duction to the study. The conclusions 
are based primarily but not exclusively 
on the answers generated by the 14 ques- 
tions we addressed to each chapter of The 
Desire of Ages (DA) text. 1 They also in- 
clude interpretations of the data, and to 
that degree involve personal judgment. I 
have tried, however, to separate my 
opinion from what I would argue the ev- 
idence indicates to be a fact. 

I have attempted to set forth the five 
concluding statements in as concise a 
manner as accuracy would allow. To un- 
derstand properly the meaning intended, 
the reader should give careful consider- 
ation to the accompanying explanations 
and supporting arguments, brief as they 

As is true of most research activities, 
the process of drawing conclusions raised 
additional issues that in my view call for 
further study. I hope that the underscor- 
ing of these issues will challenge some 
readers to add their efforts to those of 
myself and others who have tried to shed 
more light on Ellen White's work and 
writings. It should be clearly understood 
that these questions are not offered to 

dilute the reasonableness of the argu- 
ments or to suggest that this investiga- 
tion is incomplete, and that therefore its 
conclusions are invalid. 

1. Ellen White used literary sources 
when writing The Desire of Ages. 

The purpose of this fundamental 
claim, and for many an obvious truth, is 
to set forth clearly the following facts. It 
is of first importance to note that Ellen 
White herself, not her literary assistants, 
composed the basic content of the DA 
text. In doing so she was the one who 
took literary expressions from the works 
of other authors without giving them 
credit as her sources. Second, it should 
be recognized that Ellen White used the 
writings of others consciously and inten- 
tionally. The literary parallels are not the 
result of accident or photographic mem- 

In view of the fact that she employed 
editorial assistants, our clearest evidence 
of Ellen White's literary borrowing 
comes from her personal diaries and 
manuscripts. If we want to establish more 
precisely the degree of literary depen- 
dence, it would be well to study the 
manuscripts as they come from her hand, 
comparing both the dependent and inde- 
pendent sentences. Each manuscript 
should be treated as a whole. When we 
take the chapter as the basic unit of com- 
position, we remove ourselves several 
steps from Ellen White's basic work. 

This first and fundamental conclusion 
never fails to elicit a further inquiry as to 
its implications. Implicitly or explicitly, 
Ellen White and others speaking on her 
behalf did not admit to and even denied 
literary dependency on her part. 3 In the 


The issue that 
concerned her was 
the authority and 
truth of her 
messages — not their 

light of this study and other similar stud- 
ies, what are we to make of such denials? 
I think that any attempt to address this 
problem should include a serious consid- 
eration of Ellen White's understanding 
of inspiration and of her role as a 
prophet. Such a study should be contex- 
tualized in terms of nineteenth-century 
views on inspiration, especially within 

2. The content of Ellen White's 
commentary on the life and ministry of 
Christ, The Desire of Ages, is for the 
most part derived rather than original. 

In light of the data our source studies 
on the DA text provided, this conclusion 
might appear to some readers as being 
unjustified. 4 To those who have been 
told that literary sources played a mini- 
mal role in Ellen White's compositions 
such a statement may be incredible. Ob- 
viously this second general conclusion 
calls for some clarification. 

As I explained in the first article, 
source dependency involves more than 
verbal parallels. We must consider not 
only the DA text as it reads today, but 
also Ellen White's earlier writings, the 
thematic structure of her writings, and 
the content of her material even where 
no direct literary similarity exists. When 
we do so, we find that she depended on 
her sources to a much greater degree than 
the verbal similarities of the DA text to 
those sources indicate. 

We must not place too much weight 
upon arguments from silence. But it is 
worthy of note that the DA material that 
we classified as independent was often 

material dealing with topics not usually 
covered in a work on the life of Christ. 
Since our study was largely limited to this 
type of literature, the reader must con- 
sider our estimate of the level of source 
dependency in The Desire of Ages as con- 
servative. 5 

In practical terms, this conclusion de- 
clares that one is not able to recognize in 
Ellen White's writings on the life of 
Christ any general category of content or 
catalog of ideas that is unique to her. We 
found source parallels for theological, de- 
votional, narrative, descriptive, and 
spiritual materials, whether in reference 
to biblical or extrabiblical content. 

Ever since the recent surfacing of the 
issue of Ellen White's literary borrowing, 
the question How much? has had center 
stage. Adventists have tended to empha- 
size the uniqueness, the originality, of 
the content of Ellen White's writings. 
But in an ultimate spiritual sense Ellen 
White always insisted that her works 
were derivative. She received the infor- 
mation from which she wrote out her 
views through visions, through some sort 
of impression upon the mind, and from 
Scripture. She saw herself as a messenger 
of the Lord. I believe the issue that con- 
cerned her was the authority and truth of 
her messages— not their originality. For 
Ellen White, all truth ultimately origi- 
nates with God. 

This second conclusion suggests some 
areas for fruitful study. Even though we 
found parallels to sources in all of the 
types of the DA materials, perhaps we 
need to make a serious comparison of the 
content of the parallels and that of the 
independent sections- 6 And it may be 
that we will find other distinctions when 
we study the other books published from 
her writings on the life of Christ— 
Christ's Object Lessons and Thoughts 
From the Mount of Blessing. 

We also need to look at the content of 
her visions. Did she leave any record 
—what she saw and when — that would 
enable us to identify the vision content 
independent of her commentary on the 
life of Christ that exhibits the use of 
sources? And what about those times 
when she was impressed to write ? Did she 
have revelatory experiences other than 
what is generally understood as a vision? 
Would the use of sources play any role in 
such experiences? 

There is also the matter of plagiarism. 
We have now identified several of the 
sources she used. We know the types of 
literature these sources represent. And 

we have an idea of the nature and extent 
of Ellen White's literary dependency at 
the level of her original writings. With 
all this data at hand, we should be able to 
examine the issue of plagiarism in terms 
of the literary conventions that governed 
the use of such religious works among her 

3. The special character of Ellen 
White's commentary is to be found in 
its practical use of Scripture and in its 
stress on spiritual realities and personal 

Though Ellen White's writings ap- 
pear to have been largely derivative, 
they do not lack originality. A fair as- 
sessment of the evidence should not 
deny or underplay the degree of her de- 
pendence, but neither should it over- 
look or depreciate her independence. 
Despite her lack of formal education 
and her dependence upon literary 
sources and literary assistants, Ellen 
White could write. She obviously had 
the ability to express her thoughts 
clearly. She was not slavishly depen- 
dent upon her sources, and the way she 
incorporated their content clearly 
shows that she recognized the better lit- 
erary constructions. She knew how to 
separate the wheat from the chaff. 

It may not be possible to identify Ellen 
White's "fingerprint" in the material 
that Marian Davis edited, but certain 
features of her work are readily apparent. 
She did not approach the biblical text as 
a scholarly exegete. Rather, she ap- 
proached it from a practical point of 
view, taking the obvious, almost literal, 
meaning. She gave Marian Davis the re- 
sponsibility of deciding where the earlier 
publication needed improving. In some 
instances the revision included a change 
in the order of events to bring her writ- 
ings into harmony with the text of Scrip- 

Another distinct characteristic of her 
work is stress on what I have called "spir- 
itual realities." She differed from her 
sources in the emphasis she gave to de- 
scriptions of the activities or viewpoints 
of God and His angels and of Satan and 
his angels. She appears to be much more 
informed and at home than her sources 
when discussing the "other world," the 
real though invisible world of the spiri- 
tual beings of the universe. Her concern 
for reality is also evident in her replacing 
the expressions of probability, supposi- 
tion, and imagination found in the 
sources with factual accounts given in 


the style of a reporter or eyewitness. 

Ellen White's "signature" is also to be 
found in the proportion of commentary 
given to devotional, moral, or Christian 
appeals or lessons that usually appear at 
the end of a chapter. This feature would 
naturally fit the evangelistic purpose that 
motivated her writing on the life of 
Christ. It is among her devotional com- 
ments and throughout her presentation 
of what I have called "spiritual realities" 
that we are more likely to find her inde- 
pendent hand at work. 

Ellen White's independence is also to 
be seen in her selectivity. The sources 
were her slaves, never her master. Future 
studies would do well to compare her text 
with that of the sources and to note how 
she selected, condensed, paraphrased, 
and in general rearranged much of the 
material she used. 

Our study raised another question that 
merits further attention: Was Ellen 
White indebted to sources for her devo- 
tional or spiritual comments? We did 
find several parallels in one or two works 
of this type, but our research did not sur- 
vey enough of these works to establish 
whether her apparent independence is 
owing to her originality or to the limits of 
our investigation. When we extend the 
survey of possible sources to sermons and 
devotional literature, we will be able to 
tell how accurate are our data on her 
independence and bring into sharper fo- 
cus just how much of her sections of com- 
ment corresponds to or differs from the 
sources she used. 

No doubt a thorough look at Ellen 
White's use of Scripture would also prove 
helpful. Is biblical interpretation today 
limited to her practical approach? Is 
there a place for careful exegesis? If there 
is more than one legitimate approach to 
the study of Scripture, should Ellen 
White's views control Adventist inter- 
pretation of Scripture? 

Finally, regarding content, how do 
Ellen White's writings on the life of 
Christ compare among themselves? We 
can no longer ask either Ellen White or 
those who knew her to explain what she 
meant by what she wrote. To be fair to 
her and to avoid the misuse of her au- 
thority, we must be careful how we rep- 
resent what she wrote and how we es- 
tablish what her position on a given 
subject was. My study of her writings on 
the life of Christ has given me the im- 
pression that some of her views changed 
through time. The very fact that the 
DA text represents a revision of her ear- 

lier work suggests that her writings form 
a textual tradition. 

If continued investigation indicates 
that there is some development in her 
ideas, would it not suggest that her com- 
ments need to be considered in terms of 
"time and place" not only within her 
own life experience and textual tradi- 
tion but with respect to the larger back- 
ground of her times, both within and 
withoutthe Adventist Church? Perhaps 
we need Adventist historians and/or the 
Ellen G. White Estate to provide intro- 
ductions to her writings in similar fash- 
ion to what we find useful in studying 
the Old and New Testament writings. 
At any rate, we may not necessarily find 
her view by simply striking a harmony 
among all her writings on a given sub- 
ject. Her latest view might well be a 
correction or at least a modification of 
an earlier position. 

4. Ellen White used a minimum of 
23 sources of various types of litera- 
ture, including fiction, in her writings 
on the life of Christ. 7 

Actually, we have no way of knowing 
how many sources are represented in 
Ellen White's work on the life of Christ. 
In addition to the remaining 72 chapters 
of the DA text, there are two other books 
to review: Thoughts From the Mount of 
Blessing and Christ's Object Lessons. 
These 23 writers are sufficient, however, 
to answer the questions so many have 
asked: From what writers did Ellen 
White borrow? What kinds of books 
were they writing? 

Space does not permit us to survey all 
23 here. But there is no need to cover the 
entire lot, since many fall under the lit- 
erary category of "Victorian lives of 
Christ." The books in this category were 
never intended to be biographies. Today 
they would probably be classified as his- 
torical fiction. 

One obviously fictional account is In- 
graham's The Prince of the House of 
David, a work that Albert Schweitzer re- 
ferred to as one of the " 'edifying' ro- 
mances on the life of Jesus intended for 
family reading." 8 Ingraham cast his 
work as a collection of letters written by 
an eyewitness in Palestine to her father in 

William Hanna's popular work was 
designed to be "practical and de- 
votional." 9 No wonder that parallels 
from Hanna are to be found in 13 of the 
15 DA chapters we investigated. 

The books in Ellen White's library at 

We found that Ellen 
White's sources had 
used each other in the 
same way that she 
later used them. 

the time of her death appear to corrobo- 
rate what her writings reveal. She read 
widely in works of differing literary type, 
theological perspective, and scholarly 

5. Ellen White's literary assistants, 
particularly Marian Davis, are respon- 
sible for the published form of The 
Desire of Ages. 

The role of Ellen White's literary assis- 
tants was not a major concern of the 
study. But this subject cannot be entirely 
excluded from any serious attempt to 
treat her use of sources. Her method of 
writing inextricably involved the work of 
her secretaries, especially that of her 
"bookmaker." A significant part of the 
introduction to the research report cov- 
ers this rather interesting side to Ellen 
White's literary work. 

In her day she was no doubt known 
more for her public speaking than for her 
writing. She loved to speak, took every 
opportunity to speak, and was confident 
of her speaking ability. It was not that 
way with her writing. Though she felt the 
burden to write, her confidence in her 
ability as a writer was not strong. She 
knew that her education did not qualify 
her to write for publication. 

The evidence suggests that she wrote 
day by day in her journals, moving from 
topic to topic as time and opportunity 
made it possible. No doubt she worked 
with one source for a while and then 
moved on to another source and another 
subject. These jottings would be copied 
and corrected for grammar, syntax, and 
spelling when she passed that journal 


over to one of her secretaries. Several 
journals would be active at the same 

From these collections her assistants 
would compose articles for Adventist 
journals. It appears that larger publica- 
tions were produced from collections of 
materials gathered into a scrapbook. At 
least that seems to be the way the chap- 
ters for The Desire of Ages were com- 
piled. Apparently her assistants at times 
developed manuscripts from journal en- 
tries. Several of the manuscripts consist 
mainly of excerpts from earlier writings 
and do not carry Ellen White's signa- 

Our comparison of manuscripts with 
the finished text and our study of the 

letters Ellen White and Marian Davis 
wrote that reveal the steps required for 
preparing the text for publication 
clearly show that Marian Davis had the 
liberty to modify sentence structure, to 
rearrange paragraphs, and to establish 
chapter length. Ellen White was more 
concerned about the general content of 
the book, the cost, and getting the ma- 
terial to the public as soon as possible. 
She also took a keen interest in the art- 
work used to illustrate her writings. 

I found no evidence to indicate that 
Marian Davis was involved in the orig- 
inal composition of any Ellen White 
text. But without the original manu- 
scripts it is difficult to prove that such 
did not happen with any portion of the 

text of The Desire of Ages. It might 
prove helpful to make a stylistic study of 
the letters of Marian Davis and the 
handwritten materials of Ellen White. 
If their "fingerprints" emerge, we would 
have some basis for determining more 
precisely the level of involvement Mar- 
ian Davis exercised in her role as "book- 
maker. " It may well be that she deserves 
some public recognition for her services 
in this regard. 

As a final statement on the research 
project, I think it is fair to say that in 
respect to the text of The Desire of Ages, 
Ellen White was both derivative and 
original. Future studies will no doubt 
bring to our attention not only more 
sources but also a greater understanding 

Personal postscript 

Some of the questions I have been 
asked about this investigation relate 
to matters of faith and to my perspec- 
tives as an Adventist. Because I view 
myself as both a pastor and a scholar, I 
would like to answer briefly four of 
these questions. The following re- 
marks constitute my personal response 
to what I have discovered and are not 
conclusions formed from the research 

1 . "If you believe that Ellen White 
was inspired of God, why ate you 
spending so much time searching out 
possible sources for her writings?" 

There are several reasons. The 
study is justified on the basis of Ad- 
ventist interest— many in the church 
are asking about her literary depen- 
dency. No faith in Ellen White and 
her writings can be persuasive if it can- 
not stand the light of truth. Several 
friends of mine, and 1 am told many 
others unknown to me, have given up 
faith in Ellen White's inspiration, if 
not in Adventism, over this issue. If 
there are those who find it no longer 
possible to believe in Ellen White or 
Adventism, I would prefer that their 
decision be based upon a proper un- 
derstanding rather than a misconcep- 

There is also a professional basis for 
my interest in this subject. As a bibli- 
cal scholar I am aware that our knowl- 

edge of Scripture is largely owing to sim- 
ilar studies on the biblical text, its 
composition, its history, and its back- 
ground. In my view, it is imperative that 
we develop the knowledge and tools for 
properly interpreting the writings of 
Ellen White. These principles must 
emerge from a knowledge of the text and 
not be superimposed on the text. 

2. "Do you think that Ellen White 
was guilty of plagiarism, as some have 

As I pointed out in my report, the in- 
vestigation did not treat the issue of pla- 
giarism. While we cannot settle that is- 
sue here, nor do I wish to minimize its 
importance, my personal opinion is that 
she was not guilty of this practice. We did 
find verbatim quotes from authors who 
were not given credit. But the question of 
plagiarism is much more complicated 
than simply establishing that one writer 
used the work of another without giving 
credit. A writer can only be legitimately 
charged with plagiarism when that writ- 
er's literary methods contravene the es- 
tablished practices of the general com- 
munity of writers producing works of the 
same literary genre within a comparable 
cultural context. 

In the process of doing our research we 
found that Ellen White's sources had pre- 
viously used each other in the same way 
that she later used them. At times the 
parallels between the sources were so 

strong that we had difficulty deciding 
which one Ellen White was using. 

3. "How do you harmonize Ellen 
White's use of sources with her state- 
ments to the contrary? Do you think 
the introductory statement to The 
Qreat Controversy constitutes an ade- 
quate admission of literary depen- 

I must admit at the start that in my 
judgment this is the most serious problem 
to be faced in connection with Ellen 
White's literary dependency. It strikes at 
the heart of her honesty, her integrity, 
and therefore her trustworthiness. 

As of now I do not have— nor, to my 
knowledge, does anyone else have — a 
satisfactory answer to this important 
question. The statement from The Great 
Controversy comes rather late in her writ- 
ing career and is too limited in its refer- 
ence to historians and reformers. Similar 
admissions do not appear as prefaces to 
all her writings in which sources are in- 
volved, and there is no indication that 
this particular statement applies to her 
writings in general. 

But it seems to me that the statement 
from The Great Controversy does provide 
a hint as to where the answer will be 
found. Apparently Ellen White believed 
that documentation was necessary only 
when a writer was quoted as an authority. 
When the source was quoted to provide 
"a ready and forcible presentation of the 


of Ellen White's creative role. With the 
aid of her literary assistants, she built out 
of the common quarry of stone not a rep- 
lica of another's work but rather a cus- 
tomized literary composition that reflects 
the particular faith and Christian hope 
that she was called to share with her fel- 
low Adventists and the Christian com- 
munity at large. 

It is perhaps more accurate and useful 
to speak of her creative and independent 
use of her writings and those of others 
than to minimize her dependence upon 
the writings of others. Whether sen- 
tence, paragraph, chapter, or book, it is 
the finished product that should be con- 
sidered in the final analysis. A reading of 
the full report will readily reveal that the 

multiple aspects of literary dependence 
or independence, particularly of large 
portions of text, are often too subtle, too 
intertwined, and otherwise too complex 
to be precisely and consistently evalu- 
ated. ■ 

1 See the first article in this series: Ministry, 
October 1990. 

2 I do not claim that her secretaries did not 
borrow from the sources. My point is that I found no 
evidence that they composed the text using literary 
sources, and there is plenty of evidence in Ellen 
White's manuscripts to show that she did so. 

3 See "Personal Postscript" for the reference of 
the statement from The Great Controversy on this 

4 See questions 5, 6, and 7 in the first article in 
this series, "The Desire of Ages Project: the Data," 
Ministry, October 1990. 

5 For example, chapter 56, "Blessing the Chil- 
dren," includes much comment on motherhood, 
fatherhood, and the family. Until we survey the 
literature that we know Ellen White read on such 
topics, we cannot be sute that the sentences of this 
chapter actually deserve the independent rating we 
have given them. 

6 For a good example of a content analysis, see 
Tim Poirier's "Sources Clarify Ellen White's Chris- 
tology," Ministry, December 1989, pp. 7-9. 

7 The summary statement in the first article 
listed 28 writers and 32 sources for both the DA and 
pre-DA texts. I came up with the number 23 by 
omitting the duplications between the two textual 
surveys and, in an effort to be sure that we had bona 
fide sources, by eliminating from the count all 
sources providing less than five parallels for any 
given chapter. 

8 Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical 
fesus (London: A. and C. Black, Ltd., 1910), p. 
328, note 1. 

9 Daniel L. Pals, The Victorian "Lives" of Christ 
(San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1982), p. 

subject, " no credit need be given. * 

The idea that Ellen White worked 
with these distinctions in mind does not 
settle the question of plagiarism. Nor 
does it fully answer the questions raised 
in connection with the DA text, in 
which paraphrases rather than quota- 
tions dominate. It does suggest, how- 
ever, that Ellen White may have 
viewed literary dependency as primarily 
indicating authority and applying to 
wholesale quotations rather than to 

If my guess is correct, answering the 
question would demand that we carefully 
study her responses on the topic of liter- 
ary dependency in their historical con- 
text. This approach would include a 
scrutiny of her comments and those of 
her contemporaries on the subject of in- 
spiration. If so many believers today find 
her use of sources disturbing to their faith 
in her inspiration, is it reasonable to ex- 
pect less of nineteenth-century Advent- 
ists ? Ellen White's denials and/or nonad- 
missions may have meant something 
other to her than what they mean to us 

4. "Do you personally believe that 
Ellen White was an inspired messenger 
of the Lord? And if so, what do you 
mean by 'inspiration'?" 

This fourth and final question is the 
"bottom line" when it comes to ques- 
tions on Ellen White. Even though there 

is no single orthodox Adventist view of 
inspiration, whether of the authors of 
Scripture or of Ellen White, there are 
boundaries to acceptable positions. My 
personal position relative to Ellen White 
is informed primarily by my knowledge of 
the biblical text and secondarily by what 
I know about Ellen White and her writ- 

While I do not have all the answers to 
the questions being addressed to the 
writings of Ellen White, my belief in her 
inspiration is not seriously compro- 
mised. After all, we don't have all the 
answers to questions on the text of 

I have no problem with inspired writ- 
ers using sources. To my way of thinking, 
inspiration is not dependent upon origi- 
nality. Much of Scripture makes no 
claim to being new and different from 
what anyone else was saying or from what 
had been said in the past. Why should we 
expect from Ellen White something 
more than we find in Scripture? 

Actually, as a result of my reading 
many of her writings in their handwrit- 
ten and typescript form, I find that my 
respect for and appreciation of Ellen 
White and her ministry have grown. I 
covet for her supporters and critics alike 
the opportunity to read her writings in 
their original context. To be able to ex- 
perience firsthand her breadth of interest 
and involvement, her judgment and de- 
votion, her humor and humaneness, and 

her piety and spirituality, was both in- 
formative and faith-building. 

Obviously she was human, had per- 
sonal and character weaknesses, and 
was far from perfect and infallible. She 
never claimed otherwise. In my judg- 
ment, her writings contain both time- 
conditioned and timeless statements. 
These have to be sorted out through 
principles of interpretation, as is done 
with Scripture. 

I am under the strong conviction, 
now more than before I began this re- 
search, that the issue is not one of de- 
ciding if Ellen White was a prophet or 
merely a religious leader. It is not a case 
of all or nothing, of either/or. Nor is it 
the problem of deciding which of her 
messages are inspired or when she ex- 
changed her prophetic hat for an edi- 
torial cap. 

I find compelling reasons for view- 
ing her as a nineteenth-century pro- 
phetic voice in her ministry to the Ad- 
ventist Church and to the larger 
society as well. Her voice out of that 
Christian community of the past still 
deserves to be heard today in those 
timeless messages that speak to the re- 
alities of our world at the end of the 
twentieth century. — Fred Veltman. 

*Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Moun- 
tain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 


Olson discusses 
the Veltman 

Robert W- Olson 
reflects on the 
Veltman study of 
The Desire of Ages 
and, more broadly, 
on our understanding 
and use of Ellen 
White's writings in 

Robert W. Olson, 
Th. D. , who retired this 
past summer, was the 
secretary of the Ellen 
G. White Estate during 
the time the Veltman 
study was carried out. 

|~| David C. Jarnes, an 
associate editor of Min- 
istry, interviewed Olson 
about the Veltman 

Are you satisfied with 
the validity of the 
Veltman study! Do 
you have any ques- 
tions about the 
methodology Velt- 

man used? 

1 am totally satisfied with this study. 
No one could have done abetter job— no 
one. He did it as a neutral person would 
have and not as one who is an apologist. 

Veltman says that a minimum of 30 
percent of The Desire of Ages is to some 
degree dependent. Do you agree with 
that figure? 

I don't think your wording expresses it 
accurately. In 31 percent of the sen- 
tences one word or more shows some de- 
gree of dependency. But of course if what 
she did was wrong, it wouldn't matter 
whether it involved 90 percent or 10 per- 
cent of what she wrote. 

What does this study mean to our 
understanding of inspiration in general 
and Ellen White's inspiration in partic- 

Because of the studies of the past 10 or 
12 years we have a much better under- 
standing of how Ellen White did her 
writing than we did earlier. W. C. White 
and Dores Robinson tried to explain this 
to our people in 1933. In our White Es- 
tate files we have a document, "Brief 
Statements Regarding the Writings of 
Ellen G. White," that they wrote and 
offered for sale at that time. In that doc- 
ument they state that Ellen White had 
been told by the Lord that she would find 
precious gems of truth in the writings of 
others, and that the Holy Spirit would 

help her to recognize these and to draw 
them into her writings so they would be 

How should we interpret Ellen 
White's writings now that we are aware 
of her use of sources? 

Well, it is simply the method that the 
Holy Spirit used. Inspiration doesn't re- 
quire originality. Read Luke 1:1-4. Luke 
didn't say that anything in his Gospel was 
original. He said that he wrote in order 
that Theophilus might know what the 
truth was, what to believe. It wasn't new, 
but it was true. Now we know that the 
same thing can be said of Ellen White's 

Your question was how this would af- 
fect our interpretation of her writings. 
Well, no differently than it affects our 
interpretation of the Gospel of Luke. 
That she used sources doesn't mean that 
she was any less inspired than if she 
hadn't; we simply know that she had help 
—and she was always looking for help in 
phrasing things. 

In this study Veltman speaks of 
Ellen White's "factualizing" the origi- 
nal writers' speculations. I understand 
this to mean that as those authors wrote 
of an incident, they said, "Perhaps it 
happened this way." Then when Ellen 
White wrote of it, she said it indeed 
happened that way. Was she just con- 
firming what she had seen of others' 

Yes, I think so. But let's remember 
that Veltman doesn't say that she con- 
firmed all of their speculations. She was 
selective. That's the important thing. 

I studied a chapter that Veltman did 


not cover— the chapter "Lazarus, Come 
Forth, " on the resurrection of Lazarus. In 
that chapter I found at least 24 extrabib- 
lical points that were mentioned by the 
10 authors I examined- ElLen White dis- 
cussed 15 of these points. In five cases she 
stood completely alone, opposing what 
these other authors had said. For exam- 
ple, she wrote that Lazarus died after the 
messenger returned to Bethany, not be- 
fore the messenger returned. Here she 
differed with Edersheim, Abbot, Farrar, 
Hannah, March, and McMillan. She 
was the only one to make that statement. 

So where she took their speculations 
and wrote them as firm, as true, she did so 
selectively. She wasn't copying whole- 
sale and endorsing everything. 

Wouldn't it be reasonable to say that 
perhaps God used this method in part 
because of Ellen White's limited educa- 
tion? Maybe she used these other au- 
thors to compensate for her lack of 
education, and maybe God worked with 
her by showing her which parts to use 
and which to ignore. 

Yes, I think so. But I would not state 
that Ellen White was infallible in the 
decisions she made along this line. There 
are instances in her writings in which she 
differed with herself. I have to say I just 
don't have an explanation for that kind 
of thing. I simply will not claim too 

Consequently I don't want to prove all 
of history, for example, by what Ellen 
White has written. Her main purpose in 
writing was not to present historical 
facts, either biblical or otherwise. Her 
main purpose was always evangelistic. 
She was always a soul winner. She was 
always a homiletician. She was always a 
pastor. She was always trying to bring 
people to the foot of the cross. 

So, for instance, in one place she says 
that the Tower of Babel was built before 
the Flood. 1 Well, in Patriarchs and Proph- 
ets that's corrected. You will find that 
kind of thing— occasionally she differs 
with herself. We have to acknowledge 
fallibility. It's there. 

[At this point Olson looked at the list 
of questions we had given him before the 
interview and brought up one we had 

You asked about changes in chronolo- 
gy — differences in the chronology of the 
life of Christ as presented in the pre- 
Desire of Ages and Desire of Ages texts 
owing to influence of sources. We know 
exactly why she used the chronology that 

she did, because Marian Davis tells us. 
Marian says, "In the order of chapters we 
followed Samuel Andrews' harmony as 
given in his life of Christ. " That's why 
any changes were made that were made. 
No inspiration connected with such 
changes. 1 should say, no divine directive 
from the Lord telling her "This is the 

When I taught Life and Teachings at 
Pacific Union College I used The Desire 
of Ages to establish the sequence, the way 
it all happened. I wouldn't do that today. 
Now I know that they were following 
Samuel Andrews. The Desire of Ages may 
not contain a perfect chronology. 1 don't 
think the Lord is that concerned about 
giving one to us. If He had been, Luke 4 
and Matthew 4 would not differ on the 
three temptations in the wilderness. 

Do you think there are times when 
she wrote with the purpose of inter- 
preting a particular text or establishing 
either biblical history or church his- 

I think that there were times when she 
was an exegete, but those instances are 
extremely rare. I think usually she was a 
homiletician. She used Scripture as an 
evangelist would. 

For example, take John 5:39. She used 
that text in two ways, following different 
translations. She used the King James 
Version's imperative: "Search the scrip- 
tures [and you will have eternal life]." 
And she also quoted the Revised Ver- 
sion's indicative: "Ye search the scrip- 
tures, because ye think that in them ye 
have eternal life [but you'd learn of Me if 
you read them right]." 

She used two different translations of 
the same verse, and they really have op- 
posite ideas in them. Now, if she was 
willing to do that with John 5:39, then I 
know that she was not necessarily trying 
to give me an exegesis of a verse when she 
quoted it. Rather, she was drawing a spir- 
itual lesson from it. 

So you would see the suggestion that 
Ellen White's writings comprise an "in- 
spired commentary on Scripture" as 
true only in a limited way rather than as 
a general rule? 

We cannot use Ellen White as the de- 
terminative final arbiter of what Scrip- 
ture means. If we do that, then she is the 
final authority and Scripture is not. 
Scripture must be permitted to interpret 

In the article that contains his con- 
clusions, Veltman suggests that Ellen 
White's writings may form a type of 
textual tradition— that her later writ- 
ings may differ somewhat from her ear- 
lier writings. Do you think that is true? 
If so, should we give more weight to her 
later writings? 

I consider the later writings to be more 
precise— more accurate — than some of 
her earlier ones. I don't like to talk about 
mistakes in inspired writings. There are 
mistakes in the Bible, but whenever I 
mention it in a public forum of any kind I 
feel uncomfortable about doing it. I don't 
like to talk about mistakes in Ellen 
White, either; I'd rather concentrate on 
that which builds faith. But to answer 
your question, there are some discrepan- 
cies there. I mentioned a while ago the 
one about the Tower of Babel. 

Maybe a key for handling the mis- 
takes is looking at the purpose for 
which the material was written. Does it 
occur in material that is merely sup- 
portive or illustrative? It is the point 
that she was attempting to make that is 
of concern, and whether the supporting 
material, the illustration, the means of 
conveying that point, is actually com-- ; 
pletely accurate is not the real issue. 

I agree with you 100 percent on that, 
and I think most of the White Estate staff 
would do the same. We believe that her 
counsel is always good to follow. I have 
never yet found one example of where 
you would suffer in any way by following 
her counsel. I've always found that you 
would benefit. Now, the rationale that 
she gives for the counsel may not always 
be absolutely and precisely correct. But 
we can't find fault with the counsel itself. 

Let's move on to the question of 
Ellen White's literary assistants. Velt- 
man says that "Ellen White's literary 
assistants, particularly Marian Davis, 
are responsible for the published form 
of The Desire of Ages." Do you agree 
with that statement? 

Yes, this is true. However, it should be 
made clear that Ellen White supervised 
Marian Davis; she examined and ap- 
proved her work. Not one line was pub- 
lished without Ellen White's approval. 

Marian Davis would sometimes 
change words. She would divide sen- 
tences because she realized that shorter 
sentences made a greater impact. She 
would eliminate repetition. She con- 
structed the book in its present form. 


Ellen White called Marian Davis her 
"bookmaker." Without her (or someone 
like her) we would never have had The 
Desire of Ages or Steps to Christ or Christ's 
Object Lessons or The Ministry of Healing 
or Education or Thoughts From the Mount 
of Blessing. In the case of all of these 
works, she selected key passages from 
Ellen White's writings and put them to- 
gether in book form. 

But Marian was very careful to state 
that she was only the editor, that's all. 
She took what Ellen White had written 
and created the book out of it. 

In 1900 Ellen White wrote a letter to 
the president of the General Confer- 
ence, Elder Irwin, that describes how her 
books were produced: "My copyists you 
have seen. They do not change my lan- 
guage. It stands as I write it. 

"Marian's work is of a different order 
altogether. She is my bookmaker. . . . 
She takes my articles which are pub- 
lished in the papers, and pastes them in 
blank books. She also has a copy of all of 
the letters I write. In preparing a chap- 
ter for a book, Marian remembers that I 
have written something on that special 
point, which may make the matter 
more forcible. She begins to search for 
this, and if when she finds it, she sees 
that it will make the chapter more clear, 
she adds it. 

"The books are not Marian's produc- 
tions, but my own, gathered from all my 
writings. Marian has a large field from 
which to draw, and her ability to arrange 
the matter is of great value to me. It saves 
my poring over a mass of matter, which I 
have no time to do." 2 

Did Ellen White write any of her 
books following the process that you 
would normally think writing a book 
involves, in which you lay out the 
outline and then you write chapter 1, 
chapter 2, and so forth— each in se- 

She never just sat down and wrote a 
book. I don't think she ever did that. I 
don't know of one example. The only 
possible candidates for that would be Ex- 
perience and Views (1851)— her hus- 
band, 1 think, helped her put that to- 
gether — and the four volumes of Spiritual 
Gifts. After that, beginning as early as 
1870 with Spirit of Prophecy, volume 1, 
she had the help of literary assistants. 

But note this. In a letter to W. C. 
White, Marian Davis wrote: "Sister 
White is constantly harassed with the 
thought that the manuscript should be 

sent to the printers at once. I wish it were 
possible to relieve her mind, for the anx- 
iety makes it hard for her to write and for 
me to work. . . . Sister White seems in- 
clined to write, and I have no doubt she 
will bring out many precious things. I 
hope it will be possible to get them into 
the book. There is one thing, however, 
that not even the most competent editor 
could do— and that is prepare the manu- 
script before it is written." 3 

So it is clear, Marian Davis was only 
the editor. Ellen White had to write first, 
and then Marian picked that up — "Can I 
put it in here?" "Can I add something 
here?" etc. 

Veltman wrote of time-conditioned 
elements in Ellen White's writings. 
How do you view that? 

We recognize such elements in the Bi- 
ble—for example, Paul's sending the 
slave Onesimus back to his owner. Why 
not in her writings ? I don't believe it's the 
role of the White Estate to determine 
what is time-conditioned and what is 
not. That's up to individuals as they ap- 
ply Ellen White's counsels to their lives. 

I suppose this last question is the 

toughest: What about Ellen White's 
denials of literary borrowing? 

That's the only thing that I don't like 
about Fred's report. He mentions these 
denials but gives no examples. I feel like 
writing an article in which I mention 
every single denial and then from an 
apologist's standpoint give my view of 
them. 4 

There are some problems in Ellen 
White's writings— that's a fact. And I do 
not have a totally satisfying answer to all 
of them, but I'm willing to give her the 
benefit of the doubt when necessary. 1 
recognize in her ministry God at work. A 
lifetime of intimate connection with the 
work of Ellen White has convinced me 
that she was a true prophet in the highest 
sense— as real a prophet as Elijah or 
Nathan or Agabus. So if there are some 
things I can't explain— well, I'll have to 
wait until the Lord comes and get the 
explanation then. ■ 

1 Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, p. 301. 

2 From the White Estate booklet "How The De- 
sire of Ages Was Written," pp. 40, 41. 

3 Ibid., p. 34. 

4 The editors of Ministry have invited Dr. Olson 
to write this article, and plan to publish it in our 
February 1991 issue. 

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